Female Oppression in India
“Having a daughter is like watering a flower in the neighbour’s garden.” – A Tamil proverb.
The Indian women’s mortality rate is the second-highest in the world. More than 60 per cent of Indian women are illiterate. For every 1000 men, there are only 933 women in India, while the world’s average is 990 women for every 1000 men. Every year, of 15 million baby girls in India, almost 25 per cent do not live to celebrate their 15th birthday. Adult women take in approximately 1,000 fewer calories for one day than men in India. Every 34 minutes, a rape occurs.
These statistics are a reality faced by Indian women even today. Although officially having the same legal status as men, they still have to live with a very patriarchal system in place in modern India. Even within the legal system, there are some laws that greatly disadvantage women – Hindu law gives women limited rights to inheritance while under Muslim law, polygamy is allowed. The oppression of females in India, especially in the Northern parts, are likely due to Hinduism as well as Islam, which are religions that confine women to limited spheres. (This is controversial however, as many scholars suggest that Indian women during the Vedic period had much more freedom and it was the Muslim invasion that created the patriarchal society today).
Since the independence of India, there has been much progress for gender equality as many laws are passed to ensure the protection of women’s rights. This includes laws related to dowry, rape, prostitution and obscenity. While we acknowledge that activists have made some changes in the constitution, traditions are not something that can be altered easily by law. On the one hand, while women are getting their legal rights, crime against women are actually on the rise. Women get raped even by their brothers, fathers or father-in-laws. In fact, female infanticide still occurs today.
"Sons are called upon to provide the income; they are the ones who do most of the work in the fields. In this way sons are looked to as a type of insurance. With this perspective, it becomes clearer that the high value given to males decreases the value given to females." (Marina Porras, "Female Infanticide and Foeticide".)
The practice of dowry in India may still be common today even though it has been prohibited for many years now. This basically means that the husband’s demanding of dowry from the woman’s family is illegal but is still prevalent. Dowry abuse occurs when a woman’s dowry is considered by her in-laws or husband to be insufficient. They may then burn the woman to death, causing over 7000 deaths in 2001 alone. This act is commonly called ‘bride burning’. The dowry abuse may even be one of the reasons resulting in female infanticide as couples want to avoid the burden of paying a dowry.
Female infanticide is also a major problem in India accelerated by the invention of tools such as the ultrasound scan as couples can now abort their babies selectively. Although sex-selective abortion has been banned since 1994, it has not been enforced. The imbalanced sex ratio is a clear indicator of the female infanticide that still occurs in modern day India. Such selective infanticide is most probably due to cultural practices and norms. Boys are favoured due to socio-economic factors such as needing extra labour on the farms, especially when India was mostly agriculture-based. A girl has been considered a liability for centuries, according to tradition as well as the demand for dowry, which is known to be able to cripple a family financially. According to an article on BBC NEWS in 2006 “India ‘loses 10m female births’”, “Researchers in India and Canada for the Lancet journal said prenatal selection and selective abortion was causing the loss of 500,000 girls a year.”
Prohibited in 192, this practice may still have an impact of women’s mindsets today. Sati is the voluntary or forced killing of a widow once her husband has passed away. Widows were considered unholy and impure. This greatly defines women in relation to her husband and reinforces the mindset that women must submit to men and cannot have a life without their husbands. Although prohibited a long time ago, this tradition has taken many decades to be eradicated. Even now in rural areas of India, Sati is not unheard of.
Employment and education
The women in India are not represented in the workforce either. They mostly work as farmers or other occupations that are not recorded in the Census counts. Only about 3 or 4 per cent of women’s labour is recorded and acknowledged.
This outrageous oppression by males is a vicious cycle. Majority of women are not educated. Although many movements have been targeted to increase the literacy of Indian women, they focus mainly on the enrolment but not the retention of girls in school. More than half of the girls who are enrolled into a school drop out of it while most of the boys stay on. This lack of education will therefore lead to the fact that women are not empowered to break out of their suppressed spheres of life. While male domination is the cause of such inequality, the females have a part of play in consenting to the perpetuation of such a practice. Without education, women will not be able to contribute significantly to the country’s economy and that reinforces how women can only work in the domestic arena.